Local children's home seeks community involvement

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   After more than 50 years of self-sufficiency, the East Tennessee Christian Home, Allen St., Elizabethton, is asking the community for assistance. The children's home was started by the Church of Christ in 1947 and has been funded primarily by the church ever since. In the past few years the East Tennessee Christian Home has learned that if it wants to keep its doors open, it will have to receive help from the local community.
   The state has classified the East Tennessee Christian Home as a level one residential care facility. Children from Carter and surrounding counties reside at the home. Most of the children at the home are there because of the breakdown of their family systems, and can be placed either privately or by the state.
   A new director came on board two months ago with hopes of raising the community's awareness and support of the children's home. "This home has never really been projected as needing participation and support from the community, but it has been struggling for the last several years," said Executive Director Leon Dutka. "If you drive up here you can see that we need help. The road needs attention all around, and the buildings are starting to deteriorate inside and out. We have been working on them but the money is just not there to do the major things that need to be done."
   Dutka is looking for help on all levels. The East Tennessee Christian Home is in need of local craftsman and contractors willing to provide free estimates and services for renovations. The buildings are over 55 years old and need structural repairs. The cement needs to be scrapped down and resealed. Rust around the doors also needs to be removed, and Dutka hopes to paint the buildings and add awnings to the windows.
   Donations from clothing and grocery stores are also needed to meet more immediate needs. The Wal-Mart in Bristol already donates clothing to the home on a weekly basis, and the Super Wal-Mart in Johnson City gives a weekly donation of $25 for bread. However, the needs of the home surpass these donations. "We are looking for people and businesses in the area to see there is a children's home that really needs help. It does not have a big corporate or church sponsorship that gives it more money when it is needed," Dutka said. "We have to go and beg for help."
   The state pays the home about $50 per day to keep each child. It costs the home over $100 per day to provide for each child, so the difference has to be raised by the home. Dutka travels to speaking engagements at churches to raise support for the home, but the process takes a long time and most churches do not have enough money to meet the home's needs.
   A number of the services that are provided at the children's home cost a great deal of money. Children receive counseling in small groups, conflict resolution, anger management, and independent living. Each child enters a treatment program 30 days after they arrive at the home, and continue it until they leave. The average length of stay at the East Tennessee Christian Home is one year, however, some have lived there for as many as four years.
   Activity Director Melissa Marvel oversees the children's counseling. "When you are talking about caring for a child you are not just talking about clothing, feeding, and housing that child," Marvel said. "You are talking about providing staff for that child to make sure that there is someone there to take care of the child. You are also talking about house parents, relief house parents, and staff salaries. Everything has to go into the care of that child to provide level one service."
   Some new state regulations have contributed to the home's hard times. After a child got lost in the state's foster care system, regulations were adopted that limit the number of children per residential home to eight. There are three dormitories at the East Tennessee Christian Home, but only eight children can be housed in each. The dorms are capable of housing up to 24 children, which means the home is not able to receive as many state contracts, and the ratio of cost per child continues to rise.
   Even though money and skilled workers are needed to complete the home's structural needs, Marvel would welcome help from anyone in the community that would commit to the needs of the children. She stated that the home needs mentors for children, and volunteers to help with programs. "Money is important. The bottom line is we do have to have money to operate, but above that my main concern as an activity director is volunteers and commitment from individuals. If they can't give money they can come out here and help some other way," Marvel said.
   She noted that she was born and raised in Elizabethton and did not know that the East Tennessee Christian Home existed until she went for an interview. She stated that the community is too small for individuals to be unaware of a program like the children's home. She and Dutka would like to see the community get involved with the home and people are welcome to visit in order to find out how they can help.